What Are The Basic Rules Of Bull Riding?

Bull riding is a sport, currently, performed at rodeos that involves a rider mounting a bull and remaining on it for a set amount of time. Bull riding has evolved from a skill contest on Mexican ranches known as “Charreada”. It saw a rise in popularity during the mid-1800s, and was a famous sport on cattle ranches in Texas and California. Since then it’s had a worldwide impact, and riders have found their talents on the bull to be very lucrative. It takes much practice and stamina to successfully ride a bull. While exciting, Bull riding is considered the most dangerous eight-second sport in the rodeo and, quite possibly, the world.

The basic idea of bull riding is to maintain your balance while riding a bull for eight seconds. Points are determined by the success of the ride, but if you do not make it to the eight-second mark you receive no points and are therefore disqualified.


We start with the gear, bull riding is a sport heavily dependent on balance. Because of this, the necessary protective gear is minimal and lightweight, so as to not throw off the rider’s balance. Rider’s equipment consists of the following:

  • Rope: Made of Nylon and grass; Tied around the bull’s flank to encourage movement.
  • Chaps: Seatless, leather pants used to protect the rider’s legs.
  • Gloves: Riders use one glove to grip the rope, and to maintain grip. The gloves also protect the rider in case of rope burn.
  • Cowboy Hats/Helmets: Protective headgear, Cowboy hats are more traditional.
  • Boots: Specialized riding footwear; Cowboy boots are designed for bull riding, they have a special ridge for spurs. Spurs are used to maintain balance while riding.
  • Protective Vests: Protect the rider from blows while riding and after.

Bull riding equipment is not optional, so it’s important to understand its purpose. If any of these elements are off, it can affect a riders performance. A bull weighs between 1500 and 2000 pounds, and will not immediately stop bucking once the ride is over. Protective measures, and quick movement will keep you safe in the arena.

The Riding Venue

The ride takes place in an arena or stadium. The sizes vary, but usually accommodate a vast number of patrons. The area consists of bucking chutes and several exits to ensure the safety of the riders and workers. Bucking chutes are where bulls are released. They are small stable-like fixtures, and it’s where the rider goes to mount before their match. Matches are determined at random, although judges do keep a record of more challenging bulls and use them in final matches.

Scoring Rules

When it comes to the ride and scoring, bull riding relies on a panel of judges. A ride qualifies if it lasts for at least eight seconds. The time begins after the rider has mounted, given the okay, and the bull’s shoulder or flank bursts through the gate. The ride concludes when the rider’s hand releases the rope, when the rider touches the ground, or if the rider’s free arm touches the bull (referred to as a “slap”).

The qualifying ride is scored between 0 and 100 points, determined by a panel of judges. The rider and the bull are rated between a scale of 1-25. Those scores are combined by the judges for a final score ranging between 0 and 100. A score of 80 is considered outstanding, while a score of 90 is “exceptional and very rare”; most professional riders average a score of 75. These scores are determined by control, and consistency of the rider. The bull always receives a score, no matter if the ride is disqualified. The bulls are scored on agility, power, and difficulty during the ride. If the bull is more challenging, it receives a higher score.

A rider can be awarded a “re-ride”, which is a do-over should circumstances intervene on the ride. If the judges determine that the animal’s performance is poor, they may allow a “re-ride” for the rider. They may also call a re-ride if a foul occurs during the ride such as the flank strap detaches, or the bull stumbles. This is signaled by throwing a red flag into the arena.

Bull riding is a relatively simple sport, but it’s an incredibly adventurous sport. It requires flexibility, agility, and speed; that’s only after the rider has dismounted. Riders understand that this is a high-risk sport, but that is the nature of the game. It’s thrilling, but not for the faint of heart. Be advised you must take all necessary protection, and practice extensively before trying your hand at bull riding.